The Distant Chaperone

Ah, yes . . . the travails of traveling to the Caribbean—as recounted by Ralph Gardner Jr for The Wall Street Journal.

When my wife informed me that she was planning to follow our daughter down to the Bahamas for spring break I thought she was crazy, even though chaperoning your kid, from a safe distance, seems to be an increasingly common phenomenon. Wasn’t the whole point of the exercise to experience some sort of coming-of-age moment, to revel in your freedom from parental oversight, to drink to excess, scuffle with nightclub bouncers, and perhaps even briefly to find yourself on the wrong side of the law?

Come to think of it, maybe tagging along wasn’t the worst idea in the world. And the more I thought about it, the more I thought I should go, too. Not in case Gracie or one of her classmates needed to be bailed out of jail, but to get some sun. We often head down to the British Virgin Islands this time of year. There’s something about 80-plus degree temperatures after a hard northern winter, or even a mild one, that makes the body sigh in relief.

Of course, I had no illusions that staying at a Sheraton—Debbie’s idea was that we vacation just down the beach from where Gracie and 30 of her classmates were bunking, in case we needed to scramble to their rescue—was going to resemble our normal spring-break routine. That consisted of renting a small house on a hillside, spending our days traveling to remote beaches, snorkeling, and reading under sea-grape trees. But it was better than nothing.

But why would Gracie countenance our presence? Wouldn’t we be cramping her style? I wanted to go, but only on the condition that she agreed. Much to my surprise, she did. Of course, she preferred we didn’t hang out with her and her friends, but she didn’t mind the idea that we were nearby in case something went wrong. She’d been the motivating force behind her spring-break trip—organizing it, signing classmates up, and making sure their checks were delivered to the travel agency in timely fashion. She felt marginally responsible for the trip’s safety and success. Or rather, she feared she’d be held accountable if anybody made a boneheaded move.

So I steeled myself for an experience unlike any I’d had since I’d accompanied my mother to Puerto Rico freshman year in college, stayed at the Caribe Hilton, and escorted her to nightly dinner theaters where we were serenaded by the likes of John Davidson, Sergio Franchi and Charo.

Back then I didn’t know what I was missing. I remember seeing my first tropical fish in the wild there, just one, against a reef, or at least a rock, at the hotel’s small beach. It was a iridescent little blue and yellow thing. I was hooked. But since then I’ve been spoiled by nature, by swimming among schools of fish, and even the occasional shark or manta ray; watching brown pelicans dive for their supper, listening to the night filled with the trill of tree frogs and the soothing rhythm of the sea reaching shore.

It was apparent, as soon as we arrived, that none of that was likely to be had at the Sheraton. Instead of pelicans, there were fellow tourists, a good third of them more than slightly tattooed. No fish were to be found at the hotel beach, and when I arranged to go snorkeling the next day with some local with a boat he never showed up. The sound of the sea and the gulls was drowned out by the constant blaring of dance music—the vacation’s leitmotif—poolside hula-hoop and African dance contests, and evening outdoor screenings of films such as “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.”

I don’t mean to disparage the Sheraton. We had a lovely room, and I managed to locate a palm tree on the beach where, spurred by the recent HBO series, I spent much of the time reading “Game Change,” a perfect beach read for political junkies. Our fellow guests certainly seemed not to be suffering. Their apparent rapture reminded me of the expressions I’d witnesses on the faces of Russians at a Soviet era Black Sea resort when I traveled there in the early ’70s.

Of course, all of this would have made more sense if we’d gotten to see Gracie even once—tantalizingly close at a hotel just a couple of hundred feet down the beach. We hadn’t contemplated a near complete communications blackout. “We’re in room 907,” I texted her within moments of our arrival. “Having lunch at pool, then we’re going to do some damage on the beach volleyball court.” I was being sarcastic.

“At the Sheraton?” she texted back.

That was the last we heard from her. “I guess the whole point was not to see her,” Debbie sighed.

Fortunately, we caught a break the next day when the mother of one of Gracie’s classmates contacted us, asking if we might be able to locate some Benadryl. Apparently, her daughter suffered from travel insomnia. If it had been me I’d probably have spent the next 12 hours fruitlessly searching for the medication and spoiling my vacation. However, Debbie managed to locate it within minutes—not at a pharmacy but in the next-door hotel’s casino-area liquor store.

This required Gracie and her friend to traipse over to our hotel to retrieve the pills, and where after a happy reunion, they updated us on their vacation thus far. Nobody had been injured or arrested. Everybody seemed to be getting along fine. There had been a certain amount of puking—but what spring break would be complete without it. Indeed, the greatest threat to the group’s cohesion seemed to come not from the kids but their parents.

Unbeknownst to us, several of them, concerned for their kid’s safety just like us, had booked rooms at Atlantis—the Oz of all resorts—its coral-colored towers and turrets visible from our hotel in the far distance. And it seems that some of their children, more accustomed to four-star accommodations than the merely adequate rooms the group had booked, had migrated to the pool at “The Cove,” Atlantis’s high-end resort within a resort. Some were even spending the night.

Gracie seemed unbothered by the development. Besides, we happened to be moving to Atlantis ourselves. I figured that if we were going to forsake nature why go halfway. Let’s visit the Disneyland of the Caribbean—with its water park, dolphin interactions, Mayan Temple, nightclubs, and casinos. Gracie graciously agreed to join us there for lunch the following day.

For the original report go to

One thought on “The Distant Chaperone

  1. I truly enjoyed reading your article and read it with smiles and outright laughter. and to be honest I am sure my husband and myself will make fools of ourself in the next 3 years and do something as lame as this ( Wish us both luck since I am pretty sure our daughter would not allow us to board the airplane to begin with) Your daugher was a great sport to allow you both to make the trip. I am glad that her group had a great time and you both seems to have had a great vacation. Great post thanks for sharing

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